Tungnath - His Cave of Retreat

Aritro Dey

Photographs: Author
Category: Featured Travel
Date of Publication: Mar 12 , 2014Vol-02 Issue-01


"jatatavee galajwalapravaha pavitha sthale,
Gale vyalambya lambitaam bhujanga tunga malikaam,
Damadamadamaddama ninnadamaddamarvayam,
Chakara chanda tandavam tanotu na shiva shivam."

It is believed as per Indian Mythology that this hymn was sung by Ravana, the great demon of Tretayuga for the adoration of Mahadev during his penance. The hymn is well known as the Shiva Tandava Stotra where Mahadev is praised as the God of Destruction. The above lines are taken from the first sloka of this hymn which describes His manifestation as Mahakal. His throat adored by the sacred water coming out from the locks resembling dense forest and adorned with the serpent garland. A thundering sound reverberates as Mahadev, the Lord of Crescent Moon, engrossed in the cosmic dance.

I apologize for diverting the attention of the readers discussing myths in this travelogue. However, this mythological background would not be inappropriate when I will recollect the experience of my recent visit to Uttarkhand after the havoc of 16th June, 2013 which was utterly nothing but a tandav of nature. The eyewitnesses who were luckily saved from the wrath of God still recalls their dreadful experience of beholding the Tandav of Mahakal- the Ganges and its tributaries came gushing like violent Serpents of Shankara, the thud of Landslide reproduced beats of damaru of Shiva who revealed himself in the disguise of cloud bursts. Most of the victims compared this havoc as the visuals of Shiva Tandava stotra and considered this destruction as the vehemence of the anger of Mahadev who is worshipped as the Lord of the Mountains. About half a year passed and the Government had given consent to reopen the Gate of Devbhumi for the tourists yet again. Not to miss this golden opportunity, we planned to visit Uttarakhand during the Diwali (2013). Our destination was Ukhimath and Tungnath which were, however, untouched by the fury of Lord even though they are in the vicinity of the most affected pilgrimage namely Kedarnath.

We ventured for Ukhimath by hiring a Bolero from Haridwar. Up to Devprayag one could not find the trace of the destruction apart from the demolished statue of Shiva at Paramananda ashram of Hrishikesh. The surrounding was as attractive as we visited last time in 2011. As the car approached Devprayag we could feel the degree of destruction from the condition of the roads and the surrounding area. I was seeking for the view point from where I took photographs of the confluence earlier and asked our pilot to stop the car near that place. He stopped the car in front of a ravine and told me that this was the place where the viewpoint used to be situated. As I looked at the confluence I could perceive the intensity of the destruction. Alakananda, the main tributary of Bhagirathi had traced a chasm through the hill at the time of cloud bursts to flow the excess water and washed away the entire locality of that part of the hill. Now one can only see the track left by the river. Leaving Devprayag behind us we proceeded towards Rudraprayag via Srinagar. In every bend the scar of devastation was observed. On the way to Srinagar we could spot some buildings with the ground floor still filled with the filth of Alakananda. People still suspect that there may be corpses buried under those abandoned buildings. Our Pilot showed us some ravines that were once lodges or dhabas for tourists. Now, none can imagine of the possibility of a hotel there as the landslide had not left a trace of it.

A view of Devprayag
A view of Devprayag

We arrived at Rudraprayag early in the afternoon of 31st October, 2013. A hot cup of tea under the warmth of sweet temperate sun revitalized every sinews of our body while we quietly enjoyed the captivating surrounding of the Himalayas. The valleys covered with lush green vegetation after the monsoon looked like a beautiful velvet viridescent carpet. The chants of rivulets and the songs of bulbul were like nectar to the ears deafened by the din and bustle of a city life. I could feel the warmth of Love from the Mother Nature.

Ukhimath was still 41 kilometres uphill from Rudraprayag. We could not imagine at that time what ordeal was waiting for us at the entry point to Ukhimath. When we crossed the confluence of Alakananda and Mandakini, the sight shocked us beyond awe. The shrine at which the streams used to meet has now receded about 500m and was entirely stripped of its hitherto magnificent view. To reach Ukhimath we had to cross the Kedarnath road following the track of Mandakini which was extremely damaged. We followed the newly developed road from where we could see the devastated old track which has been now abandoned. After a few kilometers ahead one could find no road at all. Some portions of the metaled road were completely broken and cracked. Over this a temporary path has been constructed with boulders by the local administration. One can compare this journey with a ride on roller coaster. One after another we crossed Agastyamuni, Chandrapuri, Sialsore- some of the villages on the valley which were washed by the furious currents of Mandakini during the cloud bursts. Still now some broken chassis of trucks, buses and numerous trunks of trees are visible on the river bed. Despite such painful sights of demolition the beauty of the valley was exceptionally fascinating. The river Mandakini emerging from the abyss of snow crowned ridges and leafy green mountains appeared like a young girl playfully engaged in a dance of cosmos forgetful of herself, forgetful of the world, forgetful of everything.

By the time we reached the Kund it was already semi dark. From here, the road got divided towards Ukhimath from the Kedarnath road. Our pilot stopped for a tea break and I tried to take a few snaps of the surroundings. Capturing the painful sights of devastation through lens was quite an excruciating task but I still did it only to keep it in the frame of memory. It was completely dark when we reached Ukhimath and the small Himalayan town was already in deep slumber. Luckily, we managed a humble accommodation in the GMVN tourist bungalow without a booking!

The ground floor of the abandoned building is filled with mud
A view of Rudraprayag
A collapsed building
A view near Chandrapuri

Blessed was the next day as I was woken up by the divine chanting of the Mandakini and the morning prayers of the many known and unknown Himalayan birds. It was indeed the most holistic place to retreat that one can imagine. The visibility was crystal clear as we were blessed by the view of Kedar in its sun kissed glory. I could feel the breath of mountains in the stillness of that serene morning, as if, after the ordeal of yesterday's journey the caring hand of beauty was nurturing our weary souls and alluring to soar even higher where she dedicates all her charm and loveliness for the adoration of the Supreme. We began our journey towards Tungnath and were mesmerized by the appealing sights of the way. Each turn was unfolding the delight of a supreme felicity. The mystical landscapes made us feel intoxicated by their enigmatic elegance. The snow crowned Kedar peak and Chaukhamba were peering through the velvet green valley. Enumerable streams and waterfalls on the way resembled the streams of Ganga released from the locks of Lord Shiva. The heavenly nuance of nature filled our souls with an incomparable ecstasy. We had to cross 31 kilometers to reach Chopta wherefrom one has to trek about 3.5 kilometers to reach Tungnath. It was freezing cold there and frozen dews covered some tracts of the land. After having breakfast, we ventured for the abode of Mahadev- Tungnath is considered as the third Kedar and tallest among all five Kedars. Thus the name 'Tungnath' ('Tunga' means 'at the peak') is aptly appropriate. The shrine got closed for winter season just two days before. Thus, the Chopta Valley became a desolate place engulfed by a grave quietness. We could find no visitors but only a group of tourists from Russia whom we met on the way. During the entire course of Trek I, we could observe the glorious vision of the Chaukhamba and Kedar peaks juxtaposed with an azure sky as a backdrop. Sometimes the melodies of birds surged a heavenly rhapsody in the tranquility of the mountain tops. After traversing around a kilometer of the beautiful meadow covered with lush green grass greets the traveler is offered a soft cozy seat to relax awhile. A trekker can hardly resist his desire to roll over its lap and enjoy the picture perfect view of snow capped mountains! We took a break there and my parents decided not to continue further as they did not feel well. Leaving them behind, I headed towards the shrine at the mountain top. The path was well made by stones and moderately steep as it took us about two hours to accomplish the trial of 3000 feet high in a 3 km trek. After crossing the meadow, the landscape became barren and rocky with the decreasing line of pines, oaks, and deodars. However, the plethora of rhododendrons and grasses that grew in abundance at this altitude was a pleasure to the eye. The silvery mountain peaks appeared quite closer from here and looked like a reflection of the throne of God. I went on treading without a break, forgetful of thirst and fatigue, as if, enchanted by the magnetic opulence of 'Devatatma Himalya' until I reached the main gate of shrine. I again met the group of Russian tourists who were now preparing to return. I entered the temple premises but unfortunately couldn't get the darshan of the deity as the temple doors has already been shut for this winter. Locals here believe that Mahadev withdraws himself in solitary recluse during Dakhinayan (winter) and thus keeps the temple gate close the entire season. As the group of tourists disappeared I could not spot even an animal in the surrounding and the atmosphere was suddenly hushed in an absolute silence. I was blessed with such a marvelous experience of being on the top of the mountain for the first time in my life all by myself, as if, God has deliberately separated this moment for me to experience Him alone in the wholeness of macrocosm with its profound silence. The entire nature stood in front of me as the deity of Mahadev engrossed in His profound contemplation. It seemed to me that the Lord of Destruction now benign after the destruction is yet again absorbed in deep meditation in His cave of retreat to create a more perfect and enlightened creation. At this blissful moment I was indrawn into a trance and felt as if being transported in His luminous realm. The purpose of my journey more than fulfilled as I experienced God from within.

After observing such painful sights of destructions these graceful moments of silence replenished my weary soul with an immortal Ananda. To this day, I feel so inspired by those few minutes of my life that I cannot resist to quote a poem by Sri Aurobindo that bespeaks of this experience in exact words-

"... My mind is awake in stirless trance,
Hushed my heart, a burden of delight;
Dispelled is the senses' flicker-dance,
Mute the body aureate with light..."

With a thousand salutations to this envisage of the Supreme, I now had to return to Chopta village where my parents were waiting for me.

Kedar peak observed from Ukhimath
The landscape of Chopta
The meadow en route
A view of Chaukhamba
The way towards Tungnath
The shrine of Tungnath

In the afternoon, we were compelled to return back to Ukhimath as my parents were beyond their capacity to travel anymore. We had to cancel our plans to visit Deoriya Taal from Sari village which was few kilometers away from Ukhimath. For the next two days we stayed back a Ukhimath , our hearts content with the songs of Mandakini, the honeyed melody from birds and overall the majestic presence of the Kedar peak. On the last day of our stay in Ukhimath, we paid homage to Omkareswar Temple where deities of Kedarnath, Madmaheswar are worshipped during their winter sojourn. It was already dark by the time we left the temple. The night sky after new moon was studded with endless sparkling stars, as if, divine lamps were being floated one after another by an unknown puissant hand on the nameless waters of Infinite. As that was the last night in the kingdom of Godly Himalaya my heart was singing melancholy. From the core of my heart I apologize on behalf of all human beings for the nuisance they have committed on this holy Land of Gods. The residents of Devbhumi have displaced their faith, belief and reverence with greed of money. They have allowed tourists to litter the beauty of the nature in exchange of money as it was evident from the stray cans of soft drinks, disposable packets of dry food and empty bottles of alcohol thrown all around en route our journey to Tungnath. Overall the increasing numbers of barrages on the rivers and land acquisitions for new constructions have affected the equilibrium of nature. The nature has lent so many lifelines to the mankind. Man should use those with great care and eventually return them back to her to maintain the stability and recuperate their place in the existence. Each of us should try to become conscious of this great responsibility and contemplate like the Lord so that we can overcome all our weakness, negligence, impurity and welcome with a pure heart the new creations that the Lord aspires to manifest upon earth. With a few words of Mirra Alfassa I conclude what I realized during this short visit to a tiny corner of the Himalaya-

"...The delight of being with the Divine, conscious of the Divine, surpasses everything - surpasses the creation, surpasses life, surpasses happiness, surpasses success, surpasses everything ..."

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